tv The Compromise of 1850 CSPAN August 1, 2016 10:52pm-12:15am EDT
under the teacup. the tea is going to slosh out of the cup down to the saucer and cool off. in other words, wouldn't happen quickly. and you recall i just pointed out to you that the senate was so slow in the early part of our country, people didn't want to serve there. they would rather be in the house where the action was. so i think the senate has kind of been the brakes against the heat of the moment. against overreacting to things for most of our history. and it was employed back in the 19th century, as well. there was simply no way to cut it off until the world war i period. good question, curt. i guess we're through. our profiles of presidential candidates continues tomorrow night on tomorrow history tv with a look at james blaine.
that's at 8:00 p.m. eastern time here on cspan 3. the c-span radio app makes it easy to follow the election. get audio coverage and up to the minute schedule information for c-span radio and television. stay up-to-date on all the election coverage. c span's radio app means you always have c-span on the go. next author talks about the compromise of 1850 and the two generations of senators of the debate. mr. bordewich focuses on the compromise that preserved the
union. the new york historical society, oxford university press and the bryant park corporation hosts this event. it's just under 90 minutes. can you hear me? good evening. thank you, paul. and we're delighted at the new york historical society to partner with the bryant park corporation and oxford community press on this exciting series. tonight's program will be followed by question and answer session and a book signing. so please do join in for both. i'm really delighted this evening to welcome author and historian fergus m. bordewich. he is the author of six nonfiction books. he is also published in illustrated children's books and wrote the script for mr.
jefferson's university. he's a regular contributor to smithsonian university and his articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers, including "the new york times," the wall street journal and american hearitage. his new book explores the way in which slavery distorted american controversy in the years leading up to the civil war. david levering lewis is one of the distinguished historians of the historical rights union. he is professor at new york university and recipient of the national humanitarian medals confirmed by barack obama in 2009. he is the author of many books, including king, which is an exploration of the life of dr. martin luther king jr. and web
debois, which earned him the part man prize and two pew lit ser prices. i'm proud to welcome both of them back to a new york historical society sponsored evening. they are great favorites with us and delighted to ask them to begin their conversation. thank you. >> thank you. fergus, what a cast of characters your book has. the familiar ones, thomas heart benton, perhaps not so familiar, james stewart, william stewart perhaps not so familiar, but still of great importance at the time. but clay and cal hoon and webster and you catch these men at what must be the e pitmy of
their public lives. 1850, the great debate and the compromise that preserved the union. and we follow this debate some nine or ten months, i think, of 1,000 pages of discourse and expatientuation and debate and god knows how many -- how many votes and finally, in september, thanks to the wiz czar dri of steven a douglas we have a compromise that not even henry clay had the all come my to produce. well, all of this was necessary stated, i suppose by the regime crisis of 1890 comes from
america's first imperial venture. this is when we become an empire, and we haven't stopped since. the mentixican american waf of 1846, '48. as i read these debates swirling around the dividends and consequences of that mexican american war, i thought i would ask you this question. is it mischee vous, counter factual, but nonetheless, i think useful. would the topic of your book have been unnecessary if the whig party headed by henry clay had won the election of 1844? you cite his torn gary cornblitz's of that in 1844,
henry clay president, not james polling, and a very different scenario. well, before asking you to answer that question, would you remind us of the national real estate options presented at the conclusion of america's first imperil war. what did the treaty of gaud lieu pay actually give us? >> well, i'm eager to get the hypothetical that you pose, but to answer the, perhaps, larger question of what this war meant and indeed it was the country's first openly and eagerly em peer y'all war. the creation of the war was part of the language at the time. american easterl's by and large
proud to march off to earn an empire in the battlefield by marching into mexico. what we acquired, what the nation acquired, of course, is virtually all the rest of the continent, as you know, from the western edge of the luis yan that purchase, including far more than the present day state of mexico and significantly california. just on the kusing of the discovery of gold in california. and, already, without gold stir into the political mix here, the question -- the country faced the question, well, what was this going to become, this vast lar largely tera, what kinds of
states would be formed there. would there be states formed there. would they be slave? would they be free because by the end of the 1840s, slavery, of course infested every question bearing on the expansion of the united states. to put this into context, there were many additional ideas circulating, changing from the conquest of chunks of canada, the acquisition of cuba, which could form one or two new slave states, to compensate for free states that might be carved out of the western territory or perhaps a second mexican war that would -- that would incorporate yet more of mexico into the united states. so the country faced huge questions about what it was going to be, what was going to be the political nature of this vast western territory. and to come to your teasing
question about -- about the outcome of the election of 1844 and henry clay, henry clay, for those who may not be quite as emersed in him as you and i have been at one time or another, clay was a -- was probably after webster regarded as the most compelling and charismatic or der of his day, founder of the whig party, a man who inspired an intensity of emotion, both even these yach among his even anies and contempt. there was a cult of kissing henry clay. women swarmed after him and competed with each other to kiss him as many times as possible or as to snip bits of his hair when
he wasn't looking. but at any rate, here was clay at the, one could say the angy of his career, or the great final phase of his career. he aspired to be president for decades. >> having given us the compromise. >> and crafting the compromise that culminated the -- so clay had been in retirement before 1850 for a while and was called back on to the staj to craft yet this third compromise. clay hoped to be the whig co nominee in 1844. it's been argued that there probably would have been no mexican war. clay opposed the mexican war. though, his son was to die in it on one of the battlefields of the war.
with clay as president, would the nation have expanded all the way to the pacific. would california have become part of the united states? these are open questions. what do i think personally? i think the desire for empire, american ambitions trance sended the personality of one man, and i think clay's politics might have held -- clay might have kept his finger in the dike a bit longer, but i don't think the empire would have stopped. >> so, then, the will not proviso is the element that will make this disposition of real estate really and come pra bli difficult and challenging. without that proviso of david will month, a pennsylvania backwoods congressman, it seems to be just who propose that any
of the territory exceeded to the united states from the mexican war would be based on popular sovereignty and that slavery would be absent from that territory. and this really fueled the controversy from almost the get-go, didn't it? >> yes, it did. it -- the wilmont proviso is one of those items of american history that most high school students forget instantly, as soon as they've gotten through the exam. but, indeed, it was the pivot, one of the certainly a pivot on which the crisis of 1850 began to turn. it predated 1850 by a couple of years, but it meant that every time the discussion of up state
hood for any western territory came before congress, there would be a bitter, not to say violent, increasingly violent collision between demographically increasing northern -- northern forces that wanted to preclude the west ward expansion of savory and increasingly fierce in sus session minded southern defenders of savely by the late 1840s were insisting that slavery was nothing to be embarrassed about but rather an essential part of the american dream, and to deprive any americans of the right to own slaves and carry slavery where any slave master pleased was to deprive him of his essential rights as an american. and this came to a head, of course, with the application of
california to enter the state as a froo date. why did that precipitate a crisis? at that point free states or representatives of free states held an ever enlarging majority in the house of representatives, but in the senate 15 slave states were balanced against 15 free states. the admission of california as a free state would tip the balance and southerners feared, with good reason, permanently because they could see that if settlers in the west, by and large, were allowed to choose whether it would be slave or free, very free would make their states slave states. california made the decision imperative because gold had been discovered. 200,000 settlers moved from the east coast or from the eastern
states to california in the space of barely a year, far, far, far more people than the law required to be present to form a state. so willy nilly, california was going to come into the union. how was it going to come? >> so that's the challenge of henry clay then, who on -- in january delivers his first address on this whirling question. you paint a picture of such tenseness, such drama. i think the guardians of the senate had to bar the doors against nabobs who had come from afar who wanted to see this secty cal. this was the television drama of its day. and when quiet is restored, clay
rises and he makes three proposals or rather, i'm sorry, he proposes eight resolutions rather complicated, but the upshot of them would have been that there would have been to satisfy the south a prohibition on congress having anything to say about the constitution of these states from the point of view of the institution of slavery, that there would be a settlement of the border of texas finally with mexico at the rio gran day, that there would be compensation to mexico for the properties that it had lost to texas as the -- as the map was redrawn, that there would
be -- and this seemed to be not a great issue at the moment, a really effective fuguetive slave law so that the property of southerners that migrated to the north and elsewhere on underground railroad that you have described so well that filtration of property through the years would cease because the federal government would assure that the apprehension of these vag ga bonds and these else skap peas would take place and there would be a return of the escapees. and the guarantee that congress would never attempt to prohibit the slave trade within the slave holding states. well, that seemed for a moment, i gather, to satisfy enough people that there seemed to be a
compromise within reach that week, but i gather by the end of the week as people thought about it, as the details were scrutinized carefully, it began to be more and more difficult to press this. but on the 5th of march, he stood again. and this time with all the eloquence that you capture, he -- he expatientuated on these resolutions. well, you say -- you ask. you say, how on earth, how on earth did they do it? how did they make the paralyzed system finally work if we will just jump ahead to what actually did work? and i want to read, if i may, the pros that applies to that
question. you say, in your preface, the poll tested spin doctored shotly argued and grammatically challenged messages that today passes for political communication is pathetic and often incoherent by comparison. it can be no surprise that many americans have lost interest in politicians who have forgotten how much can be accomplished by the sur sway sieve power of well crafted english. in 1850 senators and congressmen who more often than not lacked college education, spoke from the barest of notes or not at all, for hours on end, and were confident that their colleagues in the public would understand them in speechers that were peppered with illusions to shakes peer, the bible, british common law and classical literature.
they also said what they meant. men who believed in slavery said sorks as did those who hated it. no matter how much their words attracted, by listening in on the debate of 1850, we can learn much not only about the american thought about what americans thought about their new empire, about the profound ways in which slavery warped our political system and the creative craft of compromise but also how to talk politics to each other so that we actually listen. i read this as i had just listened to talking head program about the gridlock in -- in our congress.
and i thought, is it really true that if so lans have coagainsy and eloquence and candor that, in fact, they would deliver us from stay sis and paralysis and ie dee logical warp? so i really wanted to read what happened with clay and douglas and the compromise. what was the compromise? and then i'll ask, after you tell us what the compromise, what we might think of it. >> okay. well, first, just a word or two to kind of create the atmosphere in which this was taking place. it is impossible to exaggerate the -- the sense of crisis that pervaded the nation at large, taverns, churches, cross roads,
villages, cities, every class of americans and, of course, congress itself on the cusp of this great ten-month long debate in 1850. there was a perception, a very wide-spread perception that the country was about to crack apart, as of course it would in 1861. civil war seemed imminent. warfa warfare, an invasion of the south by the north or vice versa, and newspapers predicted that there would be blood on the floors of congress itself any day. and, indeed, in one instance there practically was when senator henry foot pulled a horse pistol on thomas benton on the floor of the senate and threatened to blow his head off. of course, i was talking to somebody about this not long ago
who said, well, if you will bed to thomas heart bet ton for ten months you might want to do the same thing. he was unkind. >> might i add that senator foot was also a, and i think we are going to lose our president zachary tailor because on july 4th of 1850, foot is going to give the july 4th duration which will go on and on and ond under a sun under today's so that the president will die of sunstroke. later. >> so the compromise itself -- so bear in mind this atmosphere of terrible crisis. you're familiar with the sense of crisis of 1861. it was the same in 1850. people expected the country to break any time. and break not necessarily just into two parts, a southern confederacy and the remainder of the union but perhaps into three
or four because one sus session had begun it would be established as a president. fearful congressmen and senators are talking about the near inevidentability of a specific confederacy, a north-midwest earn confederacy. this is the fear that pervades people, and this is what clay is addressing when he stands up in the senate as david has described him. and clay has a profound faith in the power of persuasive political argument, and he is, indeed, persuasive. his speeches are magnificent. they're literature that rise to the level of art as many of these speeches by webster and many of the less well-known men of the moment did as well. so he believes in the power of
persuasion, and he believes that by persuading other members of the senate -- and bear in mind the same debate is taking place in the house of representatives. although, we're dwelling here primarily in the senate -- that he can win enough people from the radical fringes. that means the left and the right of the time. that means from amongst abolition niss who oppose any compromise with the south and from amongst southern national lists who oppose any kind of compromise of -- that would -- that would undermine their right in their minds to enslave other people and to carry slavery to as far as they wish. and does clay succeed? you've outlined his various proposals. and these are the core of the
compromise. clay comes into the senate with the idea in his mind, his brain as one of the commentators of the time described it. he has a rather large forehead that looks like it's stuffed with wonderful ideas. and he's determined to craft a compromise that will answer all the country's anxieties about slavery, not just the admission of california, not just a resolution of this extremely dangerous and contention texas border conflict. and a tiny correction, it was texas rather than mexico. it was texas's claim because texas was financially underwater and was looking for a federal handout. >> i stand corrected. >> yeah. and it would be texas's payoff for not invading the new mexico
territory on behalf of the rest of the slave owning south. texas has mustered an army of texas rangers ready to march on sanity faye. the first shots would have been in new mexico because the federal forces were prepared to fight the texas troops if they crossed the territory line. so at any rate, clay understands, as many do, that slavery is going to bring on a war unless the rush to war is halted. so he's trying to address the concerns of the north, concerns of the south by giving a peace in his view to each part of the country, whether those pieces are fairly shared out in the end is a subject of very largely scholarly debate.
did his persuasion work? no. clay did not accomplish the compromise that he believed over months and months and months of contention, exhausting debate that goes into the summer in washington, hundred-degree heat day after day. clay is so brutal in his handling of the senate, he's in effect the floor leader during this debate, that he refuses to allow a recess even to take up the filthy tobacco stained smelly carpets or to have the curtains cleaned. senators are begging him pathetically to have this done, but he's pushing, pushing, pushing. and in the end he can't do it because he can't poach. his persuasiveness can't poach
enough people from either the read cal end of the political spectrum. >> at some point, does it not happen, though, that clay initially had thought that each element could be voted on, but that along the way senator foot, a mississippi unionist, a curious man, who will end up opposing succession in 1850, he thought he could do clay a favor and bundle all the elements together in an omnibus bill, and it's that omnibus bill that clay has to argue in ways that he hadn't planned to and he will argue and argue and argue until july the 22nd when it failed. so the whole thing crashes. and the possibility of compromise would seem to be precluded. >> yeah, so one might ask.
why did clay do this? you're quite right, that clay initially did not set out to bundle all these ideas in a single bill. his initial notion was to argue them one after another. so why did he change his mind? and why did he take onboard a proposal by henry s. foot, largely forgotten to history, although a very colorful individual in his own right, in addition to his horse pistol. he was famous for challenging people to duals and he got into a fistfight with his rival, jefferson davis at one point. why? because clay needed to bring somebody onboard from the deep south who would bring other, he hoped, other senators belonging to the deep south slave owning states. and foot was an ardent defender
of slavery and at the same time an ardent unionist. these men existed at that moment. in the end, foot really isn't -- he's such a contentious, irritating individual. his personality is sort of anpy plek tick elf. sort of imagine david sadaris wearing black broad cloth and a horse pistol. but anyway, it doesn't work. and, yes, he's saddled with foot's omnibus bill. the first use, incidentally, or at least popularization of the term omnibus is this bill. so finally as david just observed, the omnibus crashes
and newspapers report it as the wreck of the omnibus. >> lots is going on outside the senate chamber, actually. and you retrieve some historical doings that i think really quite entertain these days. but to read them is to say goodness gracious, what is going on. while these debates are happening in the senate, we have a curious man who is familiar to us because we live here his birthplace, don't we, in ryan back, new york. john quick man, the rabidly slave holding owner of mississip mississippi, a yankee who migrated to mississippi and reinvented himself. in the process of reinvention he
displayed great valor at chulpultavek. he becomes mississippi governor. he decides that given all this believeuation up there in washington, the south needs to look after itself in rather adventure someways, and so we have this filibuster moment in history where some 550 men are organized under quickman and a cuban immigrant. and what is the story there? >> this is a wonderful story, and indeed i was so inthraled by it i wrote another 50 pages on it that isn't in the book because it deserves extended treatment on its own. this is the first american invasion of cuba, which occurred
in the midst of the debate while the debate is taking place in washington this force lands -- it is the bay of pigs in 1850. an american army lands, all of them togged out in their uniforms for the invasion and fully expecting to be met by a huge popular uprising pro slavery, pro american uprising in cuba that will welcome them, strew roses in their path all the way to havana. john quickman expects to be the governor, but he really means dictator of cuba, with a view to cuba being brought into the americas as one or two new slave states, and these ambitions will
persist beyond the expedition. as i said, it is the bay of p s pigs. there is no popular uprising. there is a battle, but the americans are pretty nearly driven back into the water, reboard their steam ships and high tail it to key west florida, chased at a distance of just a few hundred yards by a spanish warship straight into key west harbor. but this is part of the same atmosphere of crisis. >> well, and in nashville, we have the anticipation of this congress that we will have later in nashville represented by maybe some nine, i think, of the confederate states there. and, so, that is serious business, articulating reasons for leaving, exiting the union.
>> you know, i think it's worth pointing out that the south -- the leaders, political leaders of the south, have already by 1850 in large numbers, not universally, but in large numbers already have arrived at a belief that sus cession is both desirable and probability inevitable. john cal hoon, the grandfather of southern nationalism, who will die in the midst of this debate, not quite on the floor but across the street from the senate. clay and webster will die not long afterwards. zachary tailer, as you mentioned, the president dies in the midst of this debate as well. but one of the truths that was brought home to me in the course of researching this book was
that spiritually, if you like, most had already embraced succession. they were ready to go. now, that didn't occur because a compromise was crafted and succession was postponed. jefferson davis, who was cal hoon's air apparent steps into a leadership position once cal hoon is john. apoll gists for davis have frequently said he didn't really believe in succession. he regarded it as a tragedy. you will hear him stating again and again on the floor of the senate in 1850 that it's pretty nearly the only option left of the south and if there should be succession and there is a confederate states of america he would be available to lead it.
1850. he's made it perfectly clear. >> so how do we then rethread this? how do we pull this altogether? it seems that we have fragments on the floor of the senate. we need to gather them together, weave them into something viable that will come a compromise. who does this and how? >> the man that pulls it together is both the youngest man in the senate and the shortest man in the senate. i have a great fondness for short politicians. this is steven a. douglas, who you all know from the lincoln/douglas debates and democratic against lincoln in 1860. but that was the climax of seven a. douglas's career. he was widely regarded as an almost inevitable president
around 1850, a dynamic, brilliant, illinois politician. as i said he was only 38, i believe, at the time of this debate. and he is widely regarded as one of the most skilled strategists and tacticians in the senate and is writing the issue of popular sovereignty, that is to say the right of any citizens in any territory to decide for themselves whether to be slave or free, he's writing this, he believes to the white house. clay is exhausted. he's got tuber cue low sis. he's broken by these many months of debate. he can't keep it up any longer. he goes -- he leaves washington, goes to newport, rhode island, to go swimming, which is his favorite form of therapy and
relaxation, except for women clipping his hair and snatching kisses as he passes through new york and philadelphia. he's 72 years old at the time. steven a. douglas steps into the arena and here is clay, the founder of the whig party. and here is douglas, who is mr. democrat, mr. western departmendepartmenmocrat, pulls apart on many issues of the day but almost welded at the hip on the necessity of crafting compromise. now, clay's persuasiveness hasn't all gone to naught. he has laid out all the issues everybody has to address. and there is a wide-spread feeling that if there is a solution, it lies in the proposals that clay has articulated.
what douglas does is count the numbers, do the math. he has to do the math in a completely different way. he has no illusions by this point, certainly, that a great consensus, omnibus, can be enacted. >> so these are deals that are going to be wield? >> deals are going to be wield in the corridors of the senate and particularly in douglas's favorite hangout, which is an eatery own as the hole in the wall just off the senate floor where senators could nip and sip and -- you have to imagine douglas, who was rather john sewn yan in the lyndon sense in his way of -- it was a very short guy, as i said, but his arm would sort of creep around another senator's shoulders until the man was practically in
douglas's face, and douglas was making him promises and blandishments and -- and -- >> so we have a -- you could imagine a robert carow and his cloak room description in the previous johnson volume. >> imagine it. yes, that's what's happening. so cut to the chase here, what douglas does is craft 7 different koe a ligss to craft 7 different pieces of legislation, which were all the key components of clay's compromise, but with a different mathematical formula for each one. for example, to pick the most obvious ones, california brought in as a free state with support from abolitionists and anteslavery and not a single
deep south vote. by the same token, the fuguetive slave law which one could argue is perhaps the single -- is the piece of this compromise that has the greatest immediate impact by having a terrifically alienating impact around the north. i don't know if we might address that in a moment or two. the fuguetive slavery, very, very harsh law, is passed without a single anteslavery vote, but with solid southern backing. and different configurations past different pieces. so this is -- this is -- this is douglas's try yum f and it very much resembles lyndon johnson in the 20th century. >> your review in the sunday
times, richard brook hiezer, says this, the compromise of 1850 did not resolve the underlying of the south. it dd not even try, for the task could not be accomplished by traditional horse trading. i gather what he is saying is that this delayed the inevitable. the ir repressable conflict, stewart's words, was ir repressable. what did it really accomplish then? delay? it fudged over issues. but it also actually accelerated the inevitable, didn't it, because of that one element you mentioned and you said we might look at it a bit, and that was the fuguetive slave law, that
everybody thought not a good thing to do, but like, say, the immigration act of 1965 in the united states, something that would have very little real consequence. it was electric, though, wasn't it? >> yes. let's take the bigger question first. and then -- and then -- and then -- and then border in on the fuguetive slave law. so what did this compromise mean? how much did it really matter? had this compromise not been formed and enacted in 1850, there would have been succession and civil war in 1850. this was a war that in 1850 the north would not have won because it wasn't prepared to fight a war. the deep south was ready to go out. it's perfectly clear that the core states of what became the confederacy were ready to go in 1850.
they were motivated. they were arming themselves. and they were ready to act decisively. there was none of the determination to confront that politically or military that you found in the north by 1861. mill lard fill mor was not abraham lincoln. although he was a more interesting politician and president and very deft in this particular year, more than he's given credit for. but he was no abraham lincoln and he would not have taken the remainder of the united states to war. could the north have won it? i doubt it. it was not militarizing in the same way as the south was. by postponing the ir repressable conflict by a decade, it became a war that the united states,
the north, could actually win and, of course as we know, did win. and that makes all the difference in the world. had -- had compromise not been brokered in 1850, this country would have fractured once and quite possibly more than once. as i said early had succession been accomplished as a precedent. how did the fuguetive slave law -- you have a question. >> then perhaps i would like to interpose this. okay. we buy a decade, 11 years. but is that so? in 1850 we have the compromise. it might have held for 15, 20 years but for an abrogation of the compromise by the man who put it together, steven a. douglas, with the kansas-nebraska bill. what's going on here? >> let's look at what happened between 1850 and 1860.
several things happened. let me start with the fuguetive slave law because i want to talk about and i think its importance can't be underestimated. this was a nasty law, a very nassy law. it was not the first fuguetive slave law. >> we have one in the constitution. >> yes. and it was tightened in 1973 and southerners demanded it be tightened yet again by 1950 widely exaggerated the impact of the underground railroad in the deep south. but southerners were determined to shut down the anteslavery movement and shut down what they believed was the reach of abolitionism into the south. in short, the bill provided for extremely harsh punishments of anybody, white, black, who assisted in the escape of a
fuguetive. people were punished under it. they were punished harshly. what white northerners saw who didn't care a great deal about the fate of black americans in the deep south so long as slavery remained in the south cared a lot when the slave power as it was called reached into their own communities and plucked either self-emancipated fuguetive slaves out of their communities or punished farmers who did nothing but what most northerners regarded as a charitable act by assisting fuguetives. in addition, the fuguetive slave law sent thousands of fuguetives into northern communities, wherefore the first time, ordinary white northerners encountered people who had been enslaved and many were radicalized by the experience.
so the fuguetive slave law had a decade long effect of radicalizing white northerners and bringing many to the point they were ready to fight slavery that they saw increasing on their own cherished freedoms. yes, steven a. douglas is more ambitious for the presidency and more ambitious for the leadership of the democratic party than he is consistent in the defense of the compromise he brokered in 1850. and, yes, the compromise or that part of it that relates to the settling of the west is, in effect, abrogated in 1854, the kansas-nebraska act, which enables slavery, in fact, to be carried into -- in principal into any territory in the west.
that principal is later affirmed by the dread scott decision, which declares that, one, that as you all know, of course that slaves and black americans basically have no rights that need to be respected because they are not citizens. but it's also supports the principal that a slave is a slave anywhere and that mr. scott, mr. dread scott, was not emancipated by virtue of the fact he had lived for a considerable length of time with his owner in wisconsin. finally, you have as an outcome of the kansas-nebraska act, a civil war or the first battle of the civil war, some would say, in kansas. john brown bleeding kansas, increasing radicalization both north and south. quick tour of the 1850s there.
>> perhaps before we open up the floor for questions, i might just read this statement from william stewart, just as all of this is being wrapped up, the compromise of 1850. stewart was an interesting man. he truly was a civil libertarian, truly a person who believed that the rights of african-americans were of concern. and this is what he said: i think it's wrong to hold men in bondage at any time and under any circumstances, and i think it right and just, therefore, to abolish slavery when we have the power at any time, at all times, under any circumstances. if the present is not the right time, then there must be or there must have been some other time, and that must be a time that is already passed or time yet to come. well, sir, slavery has existed
here under this sanction of congress for 50 years undisturbed. the right time, then, has not passed. it must, therefore, be a future time. will the gentlemen abliej me and the country by telling me how far down in the future the right time lies. he also confected a construction of the or an interpretation of the constitution which said that there is a higher power than the constitution. of course, that felt like a led balloon in the chamber of the senate. but it seems to be he was quite percipient about the fragility of the compromise. >> david, might i say a word about stewart? i think that's the perfect note to bring this discussion to an
end because stewart is the most modern man in the senate. when you read stewart's words in 1850, he's speaking to us. we're hearing yourself. he talks about civil rights. he talks about human rights and he understands these things in a way we do today. he could walk in here and be sitting in the back of the room. he'd fit right in. he'd know what we're all talking about and what our politics of the 21st century is about when we talk about human and civil rights. and he is a lone, fierce voice on the floor of the senate in 1850 and in a way he's the unspoken her row, the quiet hero of this debate. >> he loses to lincoln for the presidential competition, but he will be lincoln's indispensable counselor throughout the lincoln's administration. >> well, i think we have to
accept questions because they are about to stampede with them. >> inaudible question. >> i'm curious. what did john cal hoon sound like? is there any analogous come temporary politician. because steward sounded great, but i don't know what cal hoon sounded like. >> he sounded like a guy from north carolina. it's an interesting visit. he was educated in the law in connecticut. he was an unusual man. he's not likable. frankly, it's a -- for me it was a struggle to try to get close
to cal hoon, as it was for his contemporaries. he was not an approachable man. he was a very cold individual. he was somewhat disparingly, some of his contemporaries said he is as cold as a yankee. >> hof steader who says he was the marks of the master class, although he has a different projection of the outcome of the dialectic. he was ka dav rouse, wasn't he? a very dry or ralty. >> he's not an or tor of clay and webster. he was extremely intellectual. he was maybe the most major le lek churl senator of that period. he did a lot of thinking. he had all sorts of complex ideas about the way society
worked and he was very wonningish, if you like. but he couldn't craft a vivid or toir the way the others did. >> thanks a lot. that was just fascinating. as you, sort of, implied at the end, we now have a lot of difficulty, i think, appreciating the mind set of people who think that slavery is remotely acceptable, let alone desirable. so why -- you mentioned that all the new territories were obviously going to come in as free states if they were left to their own devices. why -- clearly, back then people -- a lot of people thought slavery was, i decembgu
okay. why were they all going to come in as free states? or was it because a lot of people didn't think slavery was okay, what would have happened if he hadn't had a civil war? would it have sort of died down anyway without killing all those people? >> it didn't look like it. demographically, it was a real growth industry. 1860 there was no indication that slavery would have petered out if left alone. indeed, we have already seen that there was a southern imperilism to match the manifest destiny of the free soilers, which would have been incorporated cuba, the austin manifest toe, for example, is one of the great scandals of the next administration, of the franklin pierce administration, if anyone remembers franklin pierce.
he was determined that we get cuba from spain and was secretly negotiating until wicky leaks revealed what he was up to. so, no, it wouldn't have died out. and if you look at brazil, it didn't die out there either. it was abolished finally in the 1880s. and that was i think because it was a going concern economically, not so -- fergus? pardon me? >> why didn't any of the new territories want to come in as slave states then. >> kansas is a little dubious, isn't it? we're not quite sure what would have happened there. there was certainly a split. well, there are enough people who will not benefit from that institution. mostly, the immigrants coming over from ireland, mostly workers in the north when the
planes are opened up for rub stakes. you don't want to move into these territories and compete against slaves. and, so, quite apart from any kind of post enlightenment view that slavery was wrong, there were good economic reasons not to want to be a part of it. but, then, your point is a good one and david brian davis reminds us, doesn't me, that the unnatural institution was not slavery for most of mankind's history. it was liberty. >> i think to add to that, advocates of southern nationalism who were many and forcible, had every intention of carrying slavery west ward across the new mexico territory. that's what was behind the putative texas invasion of new
mexico, to carry slavery all the way to the west coast. and slavery's advocates talked in this debate about the future state of slave state of south california. and there was every intention to settle those territories with slaves. john a. quitman, this new york renegade who went south and became one of the fiercest advocates of slavery, stated that he intended to take a thousand of his slaves to california and settle them there, except he felt he was deferred by the uncertainty of them being protected by federal law. so there was every intention to expand it. bear in mind, too, that slavery -- the number of slaves was not slinking. it was increasing. and it was continuing to
increase. and the more slaves there were, the less political will there was, regardless of economic concerns, to emancipate them in the south. southerners were terrified of a natch turner rebellion ripped large. they say so over and over and over again. a haiti, a reliving of what happened in haiti at the turn of the century. there is much more to be said on this, except that without the war slavery would have had succession -- would have sec seeded. it wouldn't have just died out on its own. although, that argument is made by many his torns, i don't think it was going that way. i think it would have found more fields to concur. >> thank you very much. very interesting. i have a question about the
senate and compromise. couple of questions. the first one is if the filibuster rule had been in effect in 1850, would there have ever been a compromise? and are there any lessons that you could draw from your study of that debate and that moment in history and the challenges that are facing the congress and america right now with what's being called a grand bargain to reach some settlement of the issues facing us right now? >> well, those are two good, big questions. to address the filibuster one, well, in effect, filibusters were taking place in the course of this ten-month long debate and thomas heart benton in particular was essentially
filibustering. he was playing the role. he opposed the omnibus for a variety of reasons, which i don't think we shouldy gres into at this late, late moment. yes, he was the grandfather of the painter, by the way. from missouri. he owned slaves. he adamantly opposed the expansion of slavery west ward. his daughter married john c. free month and was an abolitionist. fascinating guy. so filibusters did occur and they did delay the climax of the debate, and it drove clay crazy, and he said so. to attempt to draw some lessons about the present -- do you want to take this, david? >> no, no, go ahead. i'll come long. >> okay. i'll say paren thetically here.
my wife works on capitol hill. she's the staff director of a u.s. committee. this is my dinner conversation every single night. and are there lessons to be learned, let's say? is there -- i think there are some. i think the debate lum nates where we stand today. i think the analogy between the gridlock, which we didn't talk about very much here, but both the house and the senate were gridlocked. the term didn't exist in 1850, but that was very much the situation. it took scores of ballots for the house to elect a speaker, spex, in 1850. scores of ballots. it is an amazing debate in its own right, which i cover in the book. and the senate did nothing else in ten months but to debate this, nothing. all other business was pushed --
was pushed to the margins. whatever else government was supposed to do basically didn't get done, except in a few -- in a his tilly organized session now and again. so the analogy is not bad. okay. here are some things that seem to be pertinent. one is that in all the debate, in all the great debate, in all the great or toir of 1850, never once, never once is there a speaker, no matter where he's coming from, whether it's the deepest corner of the pro slavery south or anyone else, no one attacks the federal government. and today, we have a faction in the united states, a political faction, which regards the government as the enemy and,
therefore, sees its role as essentially dismantling or damaging the gernment itself. that was not the case in 1850. everybody shared a consensus that the american system was a good system. they all express again you win pride and admiration and southerners and northerners claimed the founders as their patrons. and jefferson davis thinks and cal hoon think they are the embodiment of the founder's intentions. so we are dealing with an element in the present day that didn't exist in 1850. but the challenge of compromise, the challenge of compromise was the same then and now.